Scotland 25-13 Italy
More late, late show from Scotland. Another 12-point margin against Italy, just as we had seen in the Six Nations, and the opening match of the Famous Grouse Nations Series was in the bag at rain-lashed Scottish Gas Murrayfield this afternoon.
A crowd just shy of 50,000 saw Darcy Graham mark his international return with a brace of sparkling tries, taking his Scotland tally to 18. Remember his last international outing, last November had seen him cross for a hat-trick against Argentina.
And in the closing stages, Josh Bayliss, introduced from the bench, claimed a fine third try for the hosts with stand-off Healy adding ten points from the kicking tee.
Healy, on his first start, was named man of the match, for a largely assured performance, but, so often, as captain Rory Darge acknowledged in his post-match TV chat, it was a “mixed bag” of a display, where the hosts might have looked after the ball a little better.
Hard to be over-critical, given this was the first game of the season for both teams, but both know they will seek improvements next week with Scotland welcoming France to Edinburgh and Italy heading to Dublin.
Showers swirled around Scottish Gas Murrayfield as the teams completed their warm-ups. Scotland had one new cap in their starting XV, Glasgow Warriors centre Stafford McDowall, with the prospect of another in the former Stirling County lock Cameron Henderson on the bench.
Italy had two debutants: Lorenzo Pani at full-back and Martin Page-Relo at scrum-half.
The match ball was delivered by eight-year-old Caitlin Wilkie, a member at Strathmore Rugby Club in Forfar. Caitlin suffers from Bardet Biedl Syndrome, a rare genetic condition, and her presence was a thanks to Strathmore and all others who have supported fund-raising.
Italy kicked off through Tomasso Allan towards the railway end of the ground and Scott Cummings made a secure take. Italy attacked off the first lineout, but Ollie Smith was alert to a kick into in-goal.
The opening exchanges had been dominated by Italy and Smith had to look lively again in policing a menacing grubber into space from debutant Page-Relo.
In Scotland’s first attack, Darcy Graham was within a whisker of latching on to a thumping kick from Ben Healy – though the crowd were distracted as a young seagull seemed to be struggling to escape the pitch.
From an offside penalty, Healy fired Scotland to within five metres. Scotland won the lineout, the forwards rumbled and with McDowall acting as pivot, Healy’s cross-field kick was gleefully seized by Graham who dotted down his 17th try for Scotland. Healy missed the conversion (5-0, 12 minutes).
Craig Hunter, from Scottish Rugby’s grounds team, meanwhile, rescued the seagull with the malfunctioning radar, and it was released safely onto the back pitches.
Healy was impressing on his first start for Scotland, with another immaculate touchfinder, with Sam Skinner the lineout target on this occasion. However, a stray pass rebounded off Chris Harris and was hacked on by Manuel Zuliani with Scotland being forced to concede a scrum five.
From this field position, Tommaso Allan eventually pulled back three points from an offside penalty (5-3, 25 mins).
Towards the half-hour mark, Scotland made some pulverising tackles in open play, with Matt Fagerson and George Turner leading the way and a deliberate knock-on, gave Healy another chance to bang Scotland deep into Italian territory, only to miscue.
A quick throw-in from Kyle Steyn and Healy’s successful pat-back of his own kick, triggered Rory Sutherland but Scotland were then pinged at the subsequent breakdown.
From Skinner again on the touchline, Scotland, somewhat laboured, got the ball to Graham, but he was shepherded into touch and a turnover on Smith saw Italy remain resolute within their own 22.
A scrum collapse penalty as the clock tipped into the red from beyond the 10-metre line on the East Stand side saw Allan land his second goal – a fine effort – to give the visitors the lead.
Half-time Scotland 5 Italy 6.
From the restart, Steyn almost escaped but those little errors that had bedevilled Scotland in the first period recurred as Turner lost the ball forward in looking to take a quick tap penalty.
A scrum collapse penalty enabled Healy to edge Scotland ahead (8-6, 46 mins).
Italy’s response saw Page-Relo threaten on the break but a fine piece of work at the breakdown by Fagerson won Scotland a penalty.
More intelligent pilfering from Fagerson and Graham’s feverish pursuit of Smith’s kick ahead set up a five-metre scrum for Scotland.
McDowall had a tilt, Price picked up from the ruck and detonated the flying feet of Graham for his second try. Healy converted (15-6, 56 mins).
A feather in the cap for Scotland’s front-row as they won a scrum against the head comprehensively but Italy were soon on the attack anew and Allan opted for touchline with a penalty inside the home 22.
They were rewarded too as they worked the ball to the left for Monty Ioane to score their first try of the day. Allan converted majestically from the touchline (15-13, 62 mins).
Henderson was introduced for his first cap but, yet another game against Italy, looked as if it would fray the nerves into the final quarter.
Stuart McInally showed some fleetness of foot to lead one counter, and, into the closing ten minutes, a scrum offence penalty enabled Healy to extend Scotland’s lead (18-13, 74 mins).
Scotland were pinged for a deliberate knock-on just inside their own half and Allan fired Italy close to the 22 but their lineout mis-fired.
And just like we saw back in March, Scotland ended the game with a cracking score. Josh Bayliss won a lineout from a Healy penalty; Smith was released on the left and then Scotland recycled back right for Cameron Redpath to send his fellow Bath Rugby team-mate Bayliss in for Scotland’s third try. Healy converted (25-13, 80 mins).
Full-time: Scotland 25 Italy 13
Scotland: Ollie Smith (Glasgow Warriors); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby), Stafford McDowall, Kyle Steyn (both Glasgow Warriors); Ben Healy (Edinburgh Rugby), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Rory Sutherland (Unattached), George Turner, Murphy Walker (both Glasgow Warriors), Sam Skinner (Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Darge CAPTAIN, Matt Fagerson (both Glasgow Warriors).
Subs: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) for Turner (45 mins), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) for Sutherland (45 mins), Javan Sebastian (Edinburgh Rugby) for Walker (45 mins), Cameron Henderson (Leicester Tigers) for Cummings (62 mins), Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby) for Crosbie (68 mins), Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors) for Price (57 mins), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby) for Graham (72 mins), Cameron Redpath (Bath Rugby) for Harris (57 mins).
Italy: Lorenzo Pani; Pierre Bruno, Tommaso Menoncello, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane; Tomasso Allan, Martin Page-Relo; Federico Zani, Epalahame Faiva, Pietro Ceccarelli, David Sisi, Andrea Zambonin, Federico Ruzza CAPTAIN, Manuel Zuliani, Toa Halafihi.
Subs: Marco Manfredi, for Faiva (55 mins) ( Danilo Fischetti for Zani (51 mins), Filippo Alongi, Edoardo Iachizzi for Sisi (55 mins) Lorenzo Cannone for Zuliani (51 mins), Alessandro Garbisi for Bruno (51 mins), Giacomo Da Re for Page-Relo (62 mins), Federico Mori for Morisi (55 mins)
Referee; Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand). Assistant referees: Mathieu Reynal (France) and Adam Leal (England). TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).
Famous Grouse Player of the Match: Ben Healy (Scotland)